‘Seven Seas Voyager’ – Rescue Operation

A ‘Feel Good’ story

Every now and again a helicopter rescue comes up that has it all.
On the evening of 17th of April 2010 the cruise liner ‘Seven Seas Voyager’ on a world cruise, departed Durban after a stopover. The next leg of the cruise was overnight to Cape Town. On board were an elderly American married couple. It is assumed the American lady was not feeling that well at the time but under medical supervision on board the ship. It is also assumed that her condition suddenly started to deteriorate rapidly. By now the Seven Seas Voyager was well on her way to Cape Town. The ships Master called for a helicopter evacuation for her. The Transnet National Ports Authority of South Africa and Acher Aviation responded asking him to reverse course back towards Durban until such time as the rescue had been conducted. Back at the helicopter base the normal procedures for long range rescue kicked into gear with the paramedics arriving, refuelling, flight plans, flight following and search and rescue co-ordinated out of Richards Bay.

The helicopter crew comprised:

Commander:       Chris Esterhuyse
Co Pilot:                Jaco Oosthuysen
Hoist Operator:   Leonard Shange
Medical:                Provided by Shipmed

On arrival overhead the Seven Seas Voyager just before midnight, no landing was possible. The medical crew and stretcher were hoisted on board. The lady was very sick. Initial diagnosis indicated multiple organ failure of liver, kidneys and heart. It took paramedics in excess of 30 minutes to stabilise her sufficiently to load onto the stretcher for hoisting. Her husband, obviously distraught with her condition, wanted to accompany her. Space on board the helicopter prohibited this. His pleas to the ships master to allow the helicopter to return for him were refused. As soon as the helicopter had departed the ship was turned for Cape Town with him still on board. One can only imagine what a dreadful night he had being completely isolated and unable to do anything at all, trapped on board the ship until it finally reached Cape Town. What was a probably well deserved and much anticipated sea cruise, had turned into a nightmare for him.

Meanwhile back on the helicopter, the medical crew were struggling. The condition of their patient was dire. She made it to hospital where she was rushed into intensive care and further expert medical examination. The doctor advised the helicopter crew that she was very sick and did not hold much hope of her seeing the light of the following day.

So now, both the sick lady’s husband on his way to Cape Town and the helicopter crew were not the happiest folk in the world.

Well, guess what happened? Medical examination indicated a large abscess under one of her breasts. This was operated on and it was discovered that this was poisoning her system and the probable cause of the organ failures. The abscess was drained and cleaned up. She was moved back to intensive care where her recovery started. We can only speculate on the delight her husband felt once he had managed to get off the ship and rush back to Durban. His wife was still very ill, but alive and making progress.

The Acher crew, obviously also interested in her state were advised by the doctor that he was very pleased with her progress. She is ‘not out of the woods yet’ but he has every confidence that she will leave hospital.

While it is very doubtful that Acher or the TNPA will ever hear from this couple, this is one of those jobs where the helicopter rescue very definitely made a difference. Her condition was such that without immediate rescue and expert medical attention she in all likelihood would not be with us today. It is most satisfying when the stress and risks associated with a task such as this are rewarded with a happy ending.

A very insignificant event on the world scale.
Very highly rewarding in Acher’s little corner of South Africa.
Perhaps also significant to this American couple when they, one day, recount their ‘adventures in Africa’.

Vaughan Peacock

21 April 2010